Many readers, especially in Utah, will remember the uproar when local businessman Larry Miller pulled “Brokeback Mountain” from one of his movie theaters in January 2006. The problem wasn’t that he wouldn’t show the movie (it’s his theater; he can do whatever he wants), but that he pulled it at the last minute because of its content, yet failed to pull movies like “Hostel” and “Grandma’s Boy” that were much, much more vulgar, violent, and sexual.
Last week, Miller did a very big thing: He publicly admitted that canceling “Brokeback Mountain” was a mistake.
“Not because I got beaten up over it, but because it was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said in last Thursday’s Salt Lake Tribune. “You have to choose your spots to draw your lines and I didn’t choose a very good one.”
The reason the subject came up now is that Miller owns the Utah Jazz, and a former Jazz player, John Amaechi, has recently come out of the closet, making him the first NBA player, active or retired, to publicly acknowledge being gay. Miller was being interviewed to get his reaction to Amaechi’s announcement, and naturally the “Brokeback Mountain” controversy was addressed.
I think this is remarkable. The incident is a year old and could be considered a moot point now, yet Miller takes the opportunity in the Amaechi interview to admit that he made a mistake. That shows real class and character, I think.
Miller is a devout Mormon and was praised by some in the LDS community for rejecting “Brokeback Mountain,” but I don’t think anyone sensible would turn against him now for admitting his error. He does an excellent job in the Salt Lake Tribune interview at maintaining his religious convictions while expressing understanding:
“It was good for me in a couple of ways,” he said [in regards to a meeting he had last April with a gay and lesbian group at the University of Utah]. “I learned a lot about them with some open and honest dialogue. It didn’t change my way of thinking or theirs, but we all realized after talking with each other we have a better understanding of each other.
“I’m still outspoken on issues, but I know I have to look at people’s feelings and lives. I’d like to say I’m more understanding now. To say I’m tolerant would be less accurate, but I am more understanding.”
The fight between the gay community and religion is ongoing, and I think Miller’s sentiments are the closest anyone’s going to get to a truce.
The gay community wants religious people to be “tolerant,” but to them “tolerant” often means “not considering homosexual conduct sinful.” And most religious people simply aren’t going to reach that level of “tolerance” (if that’s even a legitimate definition of that word).
The gay community often sees this as a slap in the face: Anything short of embracing, encouraging, and welcoming homosexuality is considered “intolerant.” But it’s arrogant to try to tell any religion what they ought to believe, especially if you’re not even a member of that religion. (And if you ARE a member, wouldn’t you rather your church’s leadership base its core doctrines on what they believe is God’s will, not on member voting? If my church suddenly started changing policies based solely on what I wanted, I’d have to conclude that that church was not divinely inspired, and leave it.)
Religious people, meanwhile, often want the gay community to understand that they (they religious people) have every right to consider gay conduct sinful. And they do have that right. But when those beliefs are being used to champion secular laws restricting gays’ rights, then a line has been crossed. Preach what you want in your churches, but leave the laws out of it.
So I think Miller’s statement is excellent, and it’s what religious people should strive for. “Tolerant”? Not in the sense of having changed his mind about homosexuality, no. He still believes homosexual conduct is sinful. But “understanding”? Yes. Understanding someone means you can relate to him in some ways, you have common ground, you can see his point of view — whether you agree with it or not. You can be understanding of someone’s circumstances, proclivities, and personal affairs without having to believe that what that person does is right in the sight of God.
And NO, believing that someone is sinning is NOT the same thing as judging him, or believing yourself to be better than him, or looking down at him. Some people act that way, but they shouldn’t: Haughtiness and judgmentalism are sins, too. True Christians remain humbled by the fact that they, too, have sinned, and realize that rather than scorning or condemning homosexuals, they should be grateful that they haven’t had to face a struggle like that. If Miller’s statements accurately reflect his beliefs, then he strikes me as a good man and a true Christian.